Sorry for the lack of updates recently! I know everyone enjoys these, so…have at it. We’ll open with a Stefon theme. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, go watch some of the SNL skits on Youtube. Now.
10% off Je’Dor, an Australian brand, this weekend at DanceShopper! Here are my picks.
Latin Over Dance Shirt, $88 (This is why they tell you to tan.)
Long Sleeve Latin Dance Top, $61. A nice basic, casual henley look, either for practice or competition.
Basic Ballroom Pants with Satin Stripe, $81. From what little I know of men’s dance pants, these are a pretty good price. They also have Latin pants and both styles without stripes if that is your preference.
Long Split Argentine Latin Skirt, $89. Sexy!
Bell Fringe Latin Dance Skirt, $116, for all the fringe lovers. Comes in purple, too!
Slash Top, $71. I like the lace version better.
The Blackpool Dance Festival just finished up in England! The biggest and most prestigious ballroom dance competition and event in the world. Each round starts from something like 200 couples. It would be awesome to attend one day, even if just to spectate. Some people I know have been able to spectate and/or dance there. Jealous. Here are some video highlights for your enjoyment!
Slavik and Karina’s Rumba Showcase
Obsessed. This is one of my favorite rumbas ever and it’s still so, so good, even 10+ years later. They were the best when they danced together.
Note Arunas doing cha cha and being an overall goof. You never see this side of him! Also, Riccardo and Anastasia dancing standard.
Professional Latin Final Rumba
Michael and Joanna retire after their 8th Blackpool win! I appreciate them, but am a diehard Yulia and Riccardo fan. Also, Troels and Ina, WDC amateur Latin champions, went pro and made the finals for a couple of dances. Should be interesting to see how they do in pro! That standing spin thing that Maurizio and Andra did was sick. Also, literally everyone is wearing black or white or a neutral color.
American Smooth Exhibition
For the first time ever, they featured American Smooth at Blackpool! Historic stuff. They invited the top pro smooth couples to do a full round exhibition, which was received with a standing ovation. Maybe dancers will compete smooth at Blackpool one day. I wonder where rhythm was…
eDSI London has graciously posted the first rounds from all the events on YouTube for free! If you have a lot of time to kill, check ’em out. There were tons of competitors from China and Japan this year.
Success is all about your mindset. The struggle is just in your head. Mindset matters. These are all variants on a cliché we’ve heard plenty of times, probably a lot in sports especially. But this is one of those cases in which the cliché reflects the truth, at least when it comes to one particular distinction between two types of mindsets: fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets. This distinction was found by Carol Dweck and her colleagues, and dozens and dozens of correlational studies and experiments have found evidence that mindset matters.
Basically, a fixed mindset is the idea that each person has a fixed trait that determines their ability. This most often applies to intelligence, but it can be about any skill – so this is the idea that we each have innate talents that determine how good we are at a given activity. Most people think of IQ this way, as something we are born with that cannot be changed, no matter how hard we try. On the flip side, growth mindsets are the idea that we can improve our abilities over time with practice, dedication, and hard work, and that we are not limited by innate talents but instead can nurture them over time. Going with our IQ example, this would be the idea that we can change someone’s IQ with things like education, nutrition, or other environmental factors.
Interestingly, fixed mindsets are tied to performance goals, in other words, trying to demonstrate your ability either to yourself or others, while growth mindsets focus more on improvement and learning, honing that ability over time. Growth mindsets tend to be better for people both in the short and long term, particularly when they are not very skilled at something to begin with. Why? Because if you have a fixed mindset and fail, you are more likely to give up because you think, “I’ll never be better at this.” On the other hand, if you have a growth mindset and fail, you are more likely to think about how you can improve and do better next time. Fixed mindsets for people who initially succeed are nice and all (probably ego-boosting, in fact), but the key difference lies in when people fail, which they inevitably will at some point.
People tend to lean towards having a more fixed or growth mindset as a default, at least when it comes to specific domains such as intelligence or sports performance or just about anything. However, research has also shown that mindsets can be manipulated – if we learn about benefits of growth versus fixed mindsets, then people can shift their perspectives and benefit from the good things that come with growth mindsets.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, I think it’s inherently really interesting and challenges a lot of people’s naïve theories on how people work, but it’s also super relevant to ballroom dancing. Some people have the idea that they’ll wander in to a class, take a lesson or two, and immediately be able to dance, but us ballroom dancers know it’s not remotely that easy. I would say it takes a year of regular instruction for most people to feel really comfortable with a full repertoire of ballroom styles, and of course many, many more to master them.
For some people, particularly those with a lot of previous dancers (you know who you are, having danced ballet/jazz/tap/etc. basically since being able to walk), ballroom comes very naturally and without much effort or struggle. Sure, you have to correct a few habits, but learning steps is extremely easy. For others, ballroom is fun but much more of a challenge! The pesky alignment thing in standard, learning the difference between all the subtypes of styles, simply remembering what foot goes where. Feeling like a total clod and thinking that it’s near impossible. I was there, back in the day. I had no idea what was happening half of the time, but it was still fun and after a while of mucking around, I realized I would have to put effort, money, and a lot of practice time into learning these skills. Having a growth mindset is really much more conducive to learning and improving, compared to a fixed mindset. Yes, _______ is hard, but once you get it, it’s all that much more rewarding. I do have one caveat – I do think most of us have some innate ability to learn particular skills. There’s no denying that some people are more “natural” at things than others. In dance, some people are more flexible or have a more ideal body shape for a particular style or learn steps faster than others do. However, each of us can make the most of what we have, and sometimes being not so natural at something can produce passion and drive to improve that many of the “naturals” lack.
Anecdotally, one of my friends was better at standard than Latin when he started, placing quite well at competitions in standard. But he decided, I want to be a Latin dancer. That’s what he really enjoyed and aspired to be, so he worked hard at it over time, practiced a lot, and got to be a pretty good Latin dancer. If he had had more of a fixed mindset, thinking he couldn’t get much better at Latin, he might have just stuck to standard or maybe even given up dancing at all.
Every time we advertise the club in effort to recruit new members, I inevitably encounter the same sorts of reasons to not join. “I have two left feet,” “I don’t know how to dance,” “I could never dance like that,” and so on. Very fixed mindset, wouldn’t you say? Hey, that’s where I and 95% of the people in the club started! People have this idea that ballroom dancing’s some magical power that we just have, but we all start as beginners. For those who have been dancing some time and can’t imagine ever reaching some level, be patient with yourself. People tell me, “I could never be as good as you!” Not true. A few years ago, I never would’ve imagined myself competing at pre-champ or champ levels, but here I am (at least, in some styles). It took quite a few years, but it happened. So, if you ever feel like “ugh, I could never do that,” check yourself and remember that with enough hard work and dedication, you totally could. Just keep chugging along.
When someone suggests running “just one more set of rounds”
Tanning. Every. Single. Time.
Getting woken up by all the bronze and newcomer dancers getting ready at 4 am
Sitting through countless bronze rounds with no end in sight.
Winning bronze, cause that ish is hard!
My reaction to people who double-register at competitions for all four styles. Or those who are dancing open in all four styles.
Spacing out, then realizing I have to be in line to dance RIGHT NOW.
Trying out some new choreography for the first time at a competition.
Getting a callback!
Thinking we got a callback, but realizing it’s another couple’s number instead.
When the emcee mispronounces a not-so-hard name during results. Again.
What goes on inside my head when I’ve realized they haven’t called our names yet and there’s only 1st place left.
How I actually behave when I’ve realized they haven’t called our names yet and there’s only 1st place left.
Decompressing the day after getting home from a comp
The grand finale! You can see it here. So this is the ultimate showdown between the representatives from all four styles. I still don’t get how this is judged (Compare each to the best in the world? Look at entertainment value? Toss a few coins?), but we’ll go with it. They will start with a short program, which is supposed to be a more traditional piece that features a typical dance and steps from their respective category, and then a long program that can be more freeform in style. I don’t think they actually stuck with these guidelines very much, as the long programs seemed to be more thematically traditional.
We start with the Perzhus performing a pretty smooth waltz to a popular song that I hear in competition all the time, “Song for Viola,” which had a sad/ethereal vibe. It was very pretty but a little sleepy. Next were Emmanuel and Liana representing rhythm, dancing a fun mambo. Girl rocks the feathers in a way that most people can’t. In person, it took three attempts for this performance to work out, due to various technical issues. Great performance, though I did notice that parts of this routine were exactly the same as from their competition mambo.
Brief break with a super cute mother and son couple dancing a cha-cha. This kid was ridiculously good, with a lot of star power.
Artem and Inna, the standard couple, gave a kind of bizarre quickstep performance. They had Inna with lots of extra bust and butt padding, playing a Chiquita banana lady sort of character. They incorporated some samba steps into their quickstep, to go along with the tropical theme. I was not crazy about the costuming choice – kind of unnecessary.
Roman and Anna finished up the set of short program routines with an okay cha cha. Roman entered the floor prancing around in a boa, which I don’t think men should do in general, while Anna rocked a pinstripe jumpsuit overall thing. Overall, with the short program, I think the American style dancers did the best, which was reflected in their placements: Emmanuel in Liana in first, Peter and Alexandra in second, Roman and Anna in third, and Artem and Inna in fourth.
We then move on to some theatre arts, woot! Theatre arts at Ohio Star Ball is great to watch. It’s definitely acrobatic and lots of stuff that make you go, “what just happened” and “how the hell did they just do that?!” and you don’t often see it in general. Never at the collegiate level, that’s for sure. This was actually a competition, but ABC didn’t mention that aspect. The first performance from Carlos and DOra was an awesome Exorcist-themed dance, which was definitely out there. I loved it! Very well performed, creepy, and had good tricks and dancing incorporated into it. Usually theatre arts stuff just comes in two varieties: romantic flowy themes and intense warrior/tribal pieces, so this was very refreshing. Justin and Kimalee went next – they’re here every single year and always have a good performance. They did a romantic piece to Sam Smith that was lovely, with awesome lifts, great transitions, and nicely portrayed emotions. Third was Shane and Shannon Jensen, a rhythm couple who had some ridiculous transitions. I think they ultimately won.
Now, the long program! The Perzhus opened with a fantastic smooth tango, one of my favorites. It had a flirty, passionate, classic, yet soft feel to it that really worked. They also had really great musicality. As a standard dancer, I also really appreciated the inclusion of substantial closed-hold choreography. The costuming was also fantastic, a nice balance of classic/simple and adorned. Definitely my favorite out of the bunch.
Emmanuel and Liana went next with a bolero that was very pretty. I wasn’t sure how to feel about her outfit, which resembled an old curtain/doily. Artem and Inna followed with a gorgeous foxtrot to Amelie music, which was so much better than their first piece. Super smooth, ethereal, and technically sound. Inna is super elegant. Roman and Anna closed with a pretty traditional paso doble that was great, but lost a bit of steam at the end.
In the end, Emmanuel and Liana took the overall win by placing 2nd in the long program to Roman and Anna’s 1st. The Perzhus somehow got fourth for their tango, which I thought was b.s. It was nice for rhythm to have its moment, though. In the past, I think International style was heavily favored in this all-star competition, so it’s great to see American style becoming more popular and appreciated.
Looking back, some of my favorite performances were: Max and Michelle’s VW to Sam Smith’s “Not in That Way.” It might not have been the best dance, but the song and simple feel were lovely, as were the emotional but not overwrought performance. Artem and Inna’s foxtrot in this episode, as well as the Perzhus’ tango and the Exorcist cabaret/theatre arts (does anyone know the actual difference between the two categories?). I also really liked the Perzhus’ mambo from episode 1.
Overall, ABC did a nice job of showcasing showcases, not so much of showing typical competitive ballroom. However, given a general audience, watching showdances is probably more popular and understandable. I appreciated having two knowledgeable commentators, but wished they could have provided more useful information about how judges might distinguish among the different couples and how things are scored. From the competitors, I would’ve liked to have seen more creative pieces, but most of them were very nice, generally. For the whole show, I’d give it a B/B+.
Episode 2 of America’s Ballroom Challenge: International Style! I was surprised to find out that Mary was an Austrian (random) standard champion. I pictured her as a rhythm dancer or something, but it turns out she did a bit of everything. They played the everyone-on-the-floor-at-the-same-time mini-round of waltz, which was kinda cool. In person, it’s pretty chaotic, but visually very cool, with 30-40+ couples on the floor simultaneously. First were the “group rounds” of foxtrot and quickstep. At least these were in order this time, as opposed to last week’s smooth dances. Loved the bit of mini-formation team feather, reverse turn, three step sequence. I timed it and they only showed about 50 seconds of each dance, which was really not enough to make anything of them. Boo. Would another 40 seconds really hurt? Next was quickstep.
Showdances next. Standard showdances can be kinda boring at times, so I was intrigued to see what these couples came up with. These were more varied in dance style/theme than the smooth dances, so that was at least somewhat refreshing. My favorite thematically was probably Andrey and Anna’s Marilyn Monroe piece, but the hair and costuming were a bit distracting, with her wig flopping around a lot. A lot of hairspray would’ve helped with that. Also slightly cringed when Anna overshot the lift and almost fell behind Andrey. I’m pretty sure they’re one of the most attractive couples on the floor, especially when he doesn’t wear a shirt (from past years). But I digress. Oscar and Lenka had an awkward boy-themed foxtrot, with juvenile outfits, that I just didn’t get. The cowboy-themed quickstep from Canadian couple Anton and Anna was cute. Artem and Inna, the frontrunners, did a lovely emotionally expressive and technically sound foxtrot to My Heart Will Go On. I giggled when he kissed her ear at the end (they’re married). Loved her eye makeup. Girl rocks the flowy dresses. Denis and Lesya’s lyrical foxtrot was nice, but not very memorable. Loved her green dress and loose hair. Interestingly, she’s Max Sinitsa’s niece and used to dance with him. The hosts might have mentioned that briefly at some point. A quick search on Dancesport Info showed that Igor and Ekaterina had danced together way longer than the five and a half years reported by Mary. They danced together, broke up, and then re-partnered and went pro together. Their French-themed quickstep was solid but not super interesting. In general, I found that the women were more expressive than the men, which is especially the case in standard, I think. You tend to find a lot of tall stoic standard men.
Ultimately, in the show dance, Denis and Lesya placed first, Andrey and Anna second, and Anton and Anna third, which surprised me. Artem and Inna were in fourth, but will represent the standard style anyway, since they were first for the five other dances, I believe.
Brief featurette with the DJ Brent Mills, which was nice, I guess. On to Latin! They were gracious enough to show us one entire round of jive. I wasn’t really familiar with any of these people except for Roman and Anna. Was hoping that Riccardo and Yulia would show up this year, but no dice, alas. I liked the plain leopard dress. It’s nice when people go unconventionally simple and unadorned. On the other hand, one male dancer decided to wear glittery pants. No.
Showdances! Lots of rumbas, of course. Lots of rumbas in silky shirt-type outfits. Kamil and Anna’s was nice, but I was confused by her wet-looking shirtdress. Maybe it was on purpose, based on the storm noises in the music? Or she was just really sweaty? Also, they continued the Barbra Streisand theme from last week. We had definitely heard this exact song, “Don’t Go Away”, during smooth for Mazen and Izabella’s showdance. On another note, Kamil’s facial hair is an example of a goatee that really works for ballroom, at least in Latin/rhythm. Roman and Anna did another version of angsty silky-shirt rumba. A little too much running around for my taste, but they had a really cute moment together at the end. Also, she is so freaking tan! She made him look super pale in comparison, even though he’s not particularly white. Dmitry and Olena did a jive to “Happy” with awkward NYC-themed outfits that I didn’t get. For once, the hosts had some critique to offer about their side-by-side choreo and costuming. Evgeny and Maria did a very traditional but good paso…at least it was to a song other than Spanish Gypsy Dance. Vitaliy and Eugenia’s cha cha, with her in a catsuit, finished off the set. Pretty fun, and the catsuit worked for the Michael Jackson theme. The all-black look unfortunately led them to blend into the background a bit, though. The slower music choice also made them look a bit sluggish at times.
I didn’t have any particular favorite out of the Latin showdances. Top three showdance placements (at least, based on the lineups): Roman and Anna, Andrey and Yulia, Kamil and Anna. Which were, coincidentally (not really), the exact same rankings for the group dances. Side note, all 6 ladies’ names ended in “a”, and three of the men’s names ended in “I” or “y”. Eastern Europeans!
Overall, solid. Nothing especially stood out to me, but it was all great dancing and solid performances. Definitely the best ballroom dancing you’ll see on TV. In past years, I think people have been more creative in their choices, but it’s not something to expect on a regular basis.
To come soon: a review of Episode 3, the grand finale! I still don’t understand how they can judge and compare dancers in completely different styles, but we’ll keep chugging along.
Click here for my review of Episode 1, which featured American style pros.